A Case for Hybrid Education

Ketchup on My Ketchup:  Are We Obsessed with Traditional Education, Keeping Us Away From More Biblically-Centered Approaches to Education?

By William Hurtado

Ketchup and salsa—favorite American condiments—are so important to the American diet that it’s hard to believe their base ingredient was once considered toxic.  For about 200 years through the end of the 19th century, most Europeans avoided consuming tomatoes, which were nicknamed ‘poison apples’ and were believed to cause sickness and death.[i]  Now we look back at these times—and at other more regretful eras in history—and repeat what Martin Luther King, Jr said:  “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

Regardless of their global acceptance and established nutritional value, some people—like my dear wife—still do not like tomatoes, especially garden-fresh tomatoes.  She simply dislikes their taste, so she avoids them, or quickly removes them from her plate.  She would rather eat something more processed, like ketchup.  Ketchup, as you know, is made with tomatoes, sugar, salt, vinegar, cinnamon etc. It does have moderate health benefits; it is a source of lycopene, an antioxidant which helps prevent some forms of cancer.  But Ketchup offers limited benefits, not nearly as many as raw tomatoes.  Tomatoes are low in Cholesterol, they are a good source of Vitamin E, Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, and the list goes on and on.  We would never think of putting ketchup on our family table, without also on occasion offering raw tomatoes.

If this is true for tomatoes and ketchup, might it also be true for more important things?  When it comes to Christian education, why do some church organizations officially sponsor only one option to educate children?  I like and support my church’s school system; we need to keep offering it!  It usually has great teachers, adequate facilities, and a strong over-all program.  But might sponsoring only one form of education be like offering only ketchup at our family table?  If home-school is like tomatoes, might it also be important to offer that to families?

Like Ketchup, our Christian (Adventist in my case) school has moderate spiritual benefits.  One benefit is that it is a place where Jesus is proclaimed, and that can help prevent some forms of spiritual cancer.  But because most of our school systems function inside a traditional model—where academics and accreditation take priority and where disproportional peer-influence is a norm—unfortunate bi-products created by the traditional model seem to persist.  Consider the following comparison:

Traditional model (Ketchup):    Home-school type model (Raw tomatoes):
Set up in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to meet the needs of the industrial economy, it included extended time off in the summer to work the family farm.  It was modeled after the factories of the industrial revolution.  Schools and factories are similar even to the point where the bells at these schools were modeled on the shift-time sounds in factories.  These schools operate similarly to assembly lines. The school assembly line is segmented into years. Students enter the schools and are sorted by age. During each school day, students receive instruction on particular subjects, which are taught during fixed time periods. Students are then tested on each subject to see if they meet the standards, so they can move along the line. Finally they receive a stamp of approval (diploma) at the end of the line.[ii] During the industrial revolution, Ellen White, a social and religious reformer,  was inspired to write counsels of education that described holistic education without the restrictions of traditional/institutional education.  In this model parents are empowered to be the main educators as they secure in their children a well-balanced, symmetrical character and teach them how to conform their lives to the highest standards in respect, obedience, reverence, and self-control, and instruct them to live thoughtful, earnest lives that can yield a rich harvest of good–keeping the family central to the child’s experience.[iii]
Students travel to school and learning is building-centered.  Large, expensive brick-mortar buildings must be kept up. Students meet in homes and in real-life learning centers like parks.  It is fit and lean, an affordable school model.
Heavy academic schedule stresses students.  Main school priority due to accreditation requirements is academic achievement.  There is little flexibility to make character development experiences central. Flexible schedule is better able to keep family-life balanced. No need to submit children to unnecessary school-schedule pressure. New opportunities become available to integrate a “missionary mindset” (Jesus-centered character education) with an academic mindset.
Compartmentalized thinking.  Families conditioned to limit learning to what the school prescribes. Students generally learn at the same time and pace as their peers. The schedule is the same each day for each student. Always learning and looking for teachable moments.  Schedule and pacing is flexible to accommodate different learning styles.
Students who can’t keep up just aren’t good students. Failure is punished with bad grades.  Constantly forcing students to perform for a test grade is like putting a gun to their head; or students are moved on to the next grade without learning what they need. Failure (not irresponsibility) is encouraged to allow students to try new things and reach for higher goals.  Learning is based on self-motivation and creativity.
While the world has changed dramatically since then, little has changed in the traditional model. And many “edupreneurs” have passed Christian educators by. Parents can use modern digital tools to educate kids, and keep timeless principles of education found in Scripture.


I hope it doesn’t take 200 years, like it did for the toxic tomato myth to bust, for us to look back and wonder how it could have been possible for us to have considered homeschooling toxic in a Christian community.

Several years back, my Christian school system conducted an analysis to understand, among other things, the threats to the school system.  One of the threats on the list was homeschooling.  In other words, there is something about homeschooling that we still consider toxic to us, which is why we consider it a threat.  (Oh yes, we can’t monetize homeschoolers :(.  However, on another list, “opportunities”, homeschooling showed up again, because the school system can find ways to monetize them :).  Hopefully not before long—definitely in less than 200 years—we will look back at this old way of thinking as either “Sincere ignorance or conscientious stupidity.”

But we are in the present right now, not in the future.  Presently my school system does not publicly endorse or otherwise encourage homeschooling; While we do allow homeschoolers to join in certain activities, we don’t provide resources or have a system in place to support and grow the home-schooling community.  We don’t officially move it forward; it happens in spite of us.  Might we be stuck in cave-like thinking where we believe that anything outside of our cave is dangerous?[iv]

Or maybe we are ready to diversify from what we have created to be our cave of traditional (Adventist in my case) education?  Are we okay with endorsing other educational options if they help us accomplish our #1 goal found in Deuteronomy 6:5-7? “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”

If the school is an extension of the home and church, why aren’t we intentionally supporting a home-school model?  Consider the following comparison: The Adventist church has had a “health message” for many years.  It might be safe to say that we ignored that message–we didn’t publicly and intentionally endorse it for many years.  But in the last decade, after veganism became mainstream in the secular marketplace, we began chasing after them claiming “we had it first!”  Similarly, public education in the United States—in the secular world—has wholeheartedly embraced the home-schooling method.  They have created methods and resource labs to benefit home-schoolers.[v]  Why haven’t we also made it an official part of who we are and what we support?

I am encouraging us to rethink our obsession with ketchup-style education, and begin to endorse organic home-grown education.  I’m not saying that (traditional) home-schooling is the best option for everyone, but, done well, it is an ideal choice for some—even if for possibly only a few.

The truth is that most people choose in-the-bottle-ketchup-style education because they don’t have time to tend their own “family garden.”  They have to work, or study, or they simply don’t have the patience or motivation to organize their lives around the education of their children.  The custodial issue—the need for many parents to have their children supervised during their workday—is the reason many parents enroll their children in traditional schools.  Like I said already, I am thankful for our schools!  They are such a blessing to so many families.  But truth be told, many of these christian families also wish they could take advantage of the benefits a home-school or virtual school model bring—mainly, to keep reasonable control over their child’s environment, peer influences, and media use so they are not unnecessarily led astray.  These parents are stuck however, because they know that choosing to home-school can be stressful, and if not done well, children can spend too much time alone and not be given a variety of learning experiences.  My dear wife, for example, is not your home-schooling kind of mom.  Like with raw tomatoes, it’s not easy for her to take a bite.  What can help her have the best of both worlds?  Salsa!

A standard and almost necessary accompaniment to most Mexican food is salsa.  But it’s not just Mexicans who love this food mixture.  Soon after the United States “discovered” salsa in the 1980s, it soared to popularity.  My wife, in particular, loves salsa, and doesn’t mind eating “the kind they serve in restaurants with chips; the kind they sell in jars; the kind you eat during a football game—the kind that has replaced ketchup as the number one condiment in America.”[viii]

If officially sponsoring home-schooling doesn’t make sense for our churches and schools, may I suggest “salsa?”  Next to homeschooling and the traditional model, hybrid educational models that blend the two extremes together is a great alternative!  A hybrid model enables families to stay close to biblical principles for education, while solving the custodial issue.  It offers parents flexibility and tools to not only mold their children’s minds, but to also receive the right tutor/teacher support to guide their children toward maturity in Christ. [ix]  These tutors instruct a small group of students during the week as they study their school subjects, and also give students experiences that mold their characters to live for God.  This model can be effective in bringing together the three educational sources that empower students to exceptional Christian living:  Family, Educational centers like schools, and the faith community.[x]

A hybrid model would not have worked 15 years ago.  But with the technological advancements we have today, they can and do work.  But why are traditional models so resistant to becoming more flexible?  If traditional homeschooling and hybrid models have a perceived threat to the traditional system, that threat would be that offering these educational options would reduce the student base and tuition inflow in the traditional system that supports teacher salaries and program upkeep.  But maybe introducing new educational models will motivate our traditional system to discover new income sources.  If teenagers in America can become millionaires through innovation, why can’t we harness technology to find new income sources too?[xi]  Maybe returning to Ellen White’s education & industry model in new, creative ways is not a bad idea either.  Regardless, economics should never get in the way of God’s Will, which can be thought of as finding all means possible to empower families to raise children who love and serve God.

What are the implications of our church sponsoring, along with traditional education, some kind of hybrid-style home-schooling model?  How would it coexist in our traditional-school ecosystem?[xii] How could the traditional system change to include new models of education?  These are questions worthy of discussion!  For now, would you like tomatoes in your salad, salsa for your chips, or ketchup on your French fries?  To embrace all three options is conscientious intelligence.  Like Martin Luther King, Jr. said, with Scripture agreeing, “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

[i] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2344845/The-tomato-feared-200-YEARS-Europeans-called-poison-apple-thought-sinful-seductive.html

[ii] http://www.geopolitics.us/why-our-school-system-is-broken/

[iii] http://www.whiteestate.org/books/ed/ed1.html

[iv] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBqslamV0TU

[v] http://www.k12.com/schools-programs/online-public-schools

[vi] http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2007-08-06-church-dropouts_N.htm

[vii] As a youth pastor, have spent a lot of time with a lot of parents whose children wandered away from Christ for reasons that could have been eliminated with a home-schooling type model.  Sometimes I feel like a public health doctor who works in an impoverished country and who sees too many patients die for reasons that could have been prevented.  The lack of clean water has killed so many.  The high rate of loss in our spiritual community hovers at around 70%.[vi]  Ouch!  Is our traditional educational machinery which we created to help us prevent such losses is not delivering what we had hoped?  (Not a critique on school staff but on an outdated system).  Like Dr. Mario Pagenel, a young family-practice doctor who practiced in Haiti until he perished in the 2010 quake insisted, we should always maintain a “self-critical dialogue” through academic discussions.  Haiti After the Earthquake, Paul Farmer

[viii] http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2010/01/restaurant-style-salsa/

[ix] TED, a mainstream nonprofit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading,” clarifies how hybrid-type models can educate as good as or better than traditional models.  Consider some points TED presenters make:

  • What is necessary is quality education.  What is possible is to offer it for free.
  • Education that works moves away from monolithic lecture.  No longer does one-size fit all.  We must break down information into bite-size pieces.
  • Everyone is both a learner and a teacher. Learners can teach themselves.
  • While the subject matter is advanced, the method isn’t.  One can create an online class that is equal or superior to a brick-and-mortar class.
  • Education is not so much about information but about determination and motivation.
  • Kids are comfortable with online technology, why are we not making it more central?  
  • We can transform education in quality and access through blended forms of education. 
  • Schools aren’t necessarily broken, but their method is outdated.
  • Kids can teach themselves, we don’t necessarily need up front teachers
  • Curiosity: If you can light the spark, children are natural learners.  This is the engine of education.  The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning.

[x] http://lasierra.edu/hancock-center-for-youth-family-ministry/value-genesis/

[xi] http://www.businessinsider.com/25-kid-millionaires-all-share-these-7-atrributes-2010-11?op=1

[xii] http://www.springerimages.com/Images/MedicineAndPublicHealth/1-10.1007_s11524-007-9175-5-0

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